Royal visitors

Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, 1901

During an eight-month royal tour of the British Empire in 1901, Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary) visited Australia. The Duke's main task in Australia was to inaugurate the first Australian Federal Parliament in Melbourne.

During their visit, Their Royal Highnesses attended the Annual University of Sydney Commemoration in the Great Hall on 31 May 1901. The Honorary Doctor of Laws was conferred upon His Royal Highness by the Chancellor Sir Henry Normand MacLaurin.

Read about the opening of the first Parliament, 9 May 1901.


Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, photo, courtesy of the white gum valley primary school history website.

Earlier function at Prince Alfred Hospital, 31 May 1901

On 31 May 1901, one of the most brilliant functions of the Royal visit took place at the Prince Alfred Hospital, when the Duke laid the foundation-stone of the new Queen Victoria Memorial Pavilion.

The principal wards in the institution were almost smothered in flowers and bunting. The outside fluttered with flags and the grounds were tastefully decorated. A substantial enclosure had been erected at the spot where the principal ceremony was to take place. There was a platform for distinguished visitors, and outside the flower beds were seats for invited guests.

The block of trachyte, which is to stand as the corner stone of the new pavilion, was suspended a few feet from the ground at the end of a huge wire rope attached to a crane. The following inscription was chiselled on it: "This memorial stone of these Victoria memorial pavilions was placed by H R H the Duke of Cornwall and York on May 31, 1901. Anderson Stuart, M D, LLD, chairman of directors."

The Royal visitors were received by a guard of honor composed of detachments from the Newington College, Scot's College, and St John College cadets. They lined the approaches to the main building. Among the first to arrive was the Lieutenant-Governor and Sir Frederick Darley, and then the Royal party, with an escort of mounted troopers and Australian Horse. There was also a guard furnished by the Royal Australian Artillery, with their band.

The Duke and Duchess, together with the Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, were received at the main entrance by Professor Anderson Stuart, chairman of directors, the treasurer (Senator Gould) and other members of the board. The chairman was introduced by Lord Hopetoun. Bouquets of flowers were presented to the Duchess, Lady Hopetoun and Lady Mary Lygon. Then the Royal party signed the visitors' book, and proceeded through the various wards to the place where the stone was to be laid.

Professor Anderson Stuart read a long address, and subsequently presented a gold trowel and mallet to the Duke, who went through the time-honored ceremony of patting the stone with the mallet and declaring it well and truly laid. This concluded the ceremony, with the exception of another walk through the hospital, and the party drove off to the University.

Arrival at the University

The students cheering the Royal Party

The students cheering the Royal Party, image, 'Australian Town and Country Journal', 8 June 1901, National Library of Australia.

Read the arrangements for ticket-holders advertised in the SMH.

The proceedings were to begin at noon, but it was somewhat later when the Royal party arrived. The hall, however, was full long before tho appointed time.

During the wait an organ recital was given by Mr. A. H. Mote. A programme of songs, arranged by the Undergraduates' Association on its own account, was also sung by the students.

Their Royal Highnesses, who were accompanied by their staff, their Excellencies the Governor-General, the Countess of Hopetoun, the Lieutenant-Governor of the State and Miss Darley were received in the staircase hall, the University Volunteer Rifle Corps acting as a Royal guard of honour.

Conferring ceremony

Their Royal Highnesses were then escorted to the Great Hall in the following order:

  • Yeoman Bedell
  • Professor Cobbett
  • Professor McCallum
  • Professor Warren
  • Professor Liversidge
  • Mr C B Stephen
  • Mr Alexander Oliver
  • Judge Backhouse
  • The Right Hon Dr Barton
  • Mrs Russell
  • Miss Darley
  • Lady Renwick
  • Countess of Hopetoun
  • Mrs MacLaurin
  • The Duchess of Cornwall and York
  • Ladies in waiting


The Duchess was received with cheers, and took a seat under the dais, on the right-hand side, with the ladies of the procession.

There was a slight delay while the Duke was robed. He was escorted to the Hall in the following order:

  • The Yeoman Bedell
  • Professor Woodhouse and Professor Pullock
  • Professor Wood and Professor Butler
  • Professor David and Professor Wilson
  • Professor Haswell and Professor Anderson
  • Professor Stuart and the Chairman of the Professorial Board
  • Mr Justice Simpson and Mr H C L Anderson
  • Hon Dr Cullen and Mr E W Knox
  • Judge Rogers and Dr Sydney Jones
  • Mr R Teece
  • Gentlemen in Waiting
  • Mr H C Russell and the Lieutenant-Governor
  • The Vice-Chancellor The Hon Sir Arthur Renwick and the Governor-General
  • The Registrar Henry Ebenezer Barff CMG and the Esquire Bedell John Mitchell Purves (with Mace)
  • The Chancellor Sir Henry Normand MacLaurin and the Duke of Cornwall and York


The proceedings were purely academic, and consisted solely in the conferring of degrees. Unlike previous commemoration days, there were no speeches but despite the formal nature of the function, the undergraduates from their point of view had a very enjoyable time. Throughout the proceedings they carried out an impromptu programme of their own. It had an appropriate limit, however, but it was remarked afterwards that for years things had not been so lively at a commemoration gathering. Everything, however, was good-humoured and the Duke throughout looked anything but displeased.

Read details of the students' comments.

The Chancellor having formally declared the meeting convened, the registrar gave the commemoration of benefactors, and then the conferring of degrees by the Chancellor upon the candidates presented to him by the deans of the several faculties took place.

The first was his Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall and York. The Chancellor, addressing the Duke, said -' In the name of the senate, and by my authority as Chancellor, I admit you to the degree of Doctor of Laws in this University.' He handed the Duke his diploma, handsomely illuminated and bound.

The Duke replied: "Oh! Thanks very much! You are extremely kind."

To which the Chancellor rejoined, "Don't name it, your Highness; don't name it; no trouble at all, quite a pleasure."

The Duke bowed and resumed his seat amidst cheers, the students singing, "For he's a jolly good fellow".

About 70 candidates were then presented individually to the Chancellor and received their degrees. They advanced from behind the dais, and on retiring bowed first before the duke and then when passing before the Duchess.

At the conclusion of the ceremony the Chancellor called for cheers for the Duke aud the Duchess, and then the National Anthem "God save the King" was sung which closed the proceeding.

Instantly the air was rent with imperious cries of "Speech, George!" but the begowned Duke did not respond the invitation.

The Royal and Vice-regal parties left the hall, and the Duke and Duchess went to their carriage and departed.

During the proceedings Mrs MacLaurin, on behalf of the Senate, presented their Royal Highnesses with an album containing views of the University bound in green morocco. The president and secretary of the women's undergraduates, Miss Amos and Miss L Fullerton, also presented the Duchess with a bouquest of flowers.

Advertised arrangements for ticket-holders

Their Royal Highnesses will enter the grounds by gate in Parramatta-road, driving to the front of the University by the right roadway, returning by the left roadway to the same entrance.

Carriages conveying invited guests must set down not later than 11.15am, and then proceed to the Medical School Avenue, remaining there until the function is over. Carriages should enter by the Newtown-road gates.

Admission to the enclosure is by special invitation ticket; there is a different invitation card for admission to the Hall; both cards are to be produced. All persons holding tickets for the hall are expected to be in their seats by 11.30am. The doors will be closed immediately the proceedings begin.

Suspension of traffic: between the hours of 11am and 1pm, tramway and all vehicles and horse traffic upon the route will be entirely suspended.

Students' comments during the ceremony

The Duke's reception was most enthusiastic. As he was seen in the red robes of a Deputy Chancellor of Oxford, one of the more adventurous of the students launched out into appropriate song:

"Red light! Danger!
When you see that light shine,
Never, never funk! Do a little bunk!"

but before he had time to finish the melody his effort was drowned in a chorus of "God Save the King," which the students sang lustily.

The Chancellor, magnificent in a beautiful gold-braided robe, then endeavoured to open the proceedings, and Mr Barff waved his arm commandingly.

But the students were not ready. They sang through the first song, "Guadeamus Igitur", a little thing of their own, in Latin . As the seemingly interminable verses succeeded, the Duke laughed heartily at the audacity of the students in so discomfiting the Chancellor and the gentlemen of the Senate. He appeared to enjoy the joke, and it was as well that he did, for, to the credit of the independence of Young Sydney be it said, the students were rather worse behaved than usual. The Royal visitor apparently appreciated the fact that their behaviour was prompted by good humour.

When the Latin song ceased the Chancellor, in his rugged Scotch way, declaimed for a while into a storm of clamour, noisy as a mile of surf, and none but he knew what he said. The bill set forth that he was declaring the meeting duly convened. Then the Registrar, in accordance, as he himself put it, with usage, read out a list of benefactions, which information was lost in the clamor as rain escapes in the sea.

But after this there was a period of comparative silence, while an honorary degree of doctor of laws was conferred upon the Duke.

A chorus of voices, stern and insistent, speaking in unison, floated down from the back of the hall, uttering a sentence repeatedly. The sentence was addressed to the Duke, and was "Where is John See's knighthood?" His Royal Highness made no reply, and the students repeated the unanswered query at intervals throughout the performance.


LB